By the author of the bestselling The Woman Warrior, a magical book: a literature of peace built on the stories of war. Divided into four sections - 'Fire', 'Paper', 'Water' and 'Earth' - this book is neither fiction nor autobiography nor memoir, but a unique form of Chinese 'talk-story' in which real and imagined worlds intrude upon and enrich one another. From the anti-war protests in Hawaii to Kingston's own conversations with Vietnam veterans, the author takes us inside the hearts and minds of a host of characters, not least of whom is her own Mama, the veteran woman warrior Brave Orchid. This remarkable book is also the narrative of the seminal years in which Kingston rebuilds her life following a devastating fire, which destroyed all her possessions including her novel The Fourth Book of Peace, and the death of her father.
In September 1991, Kingston (The Woman Warrior; China Men; etc.) drove toward her Oakland, Calif., home after attending her father's funeral. The hills were burning; she unwittingly risked her life attempting to rescue her novel-in-progress, The Fourth Book of Peace. Nothing remained of the novel except a block of ash; all that remained of her possessions were intricate twinings of molten glass, blackened jade jewelry and the chimney of what was once home to her and her husband. This work retells the novel-in-progress (an autobiographical tale of Wittman Ah Sing, a poet who flees to Hawaii to evade the Vietnam draft with his white wife and young son); details Kingston's harrowing trek to find her house amid the ruins; accompanies the author on her quest to discern myths regarding the Chinese Three Lost Books of Peace and, finally, submits Kingston's remarkable call to veterans of all wars (though Vietnam plays the largest role) to help her convey a literature of peace through their and her writings. Kingston writes in a panoply of languages: American, Chinese, poetry, dreams, mythos, song, history, hallucination, meditation, tragedy all are invoked in this complex stream-of-consciousness memoir, which questions repeatedly and intrinsically: Why war? Why not peace? The last war on Iraq and the current one meld here, as do wars thousands of years old. Complicated, convoluted, fascinating and, in the final section, poignant almost beyond bearability, this work illumines one writer's experience of war and remembrance while elevating a personal search to a cosmic quest for truth. This is vintage Kingston: agent provocateur, she once again follows her mother's dictate to "educate the world."